Deciding which preschool to send your child to is perhaps one of the most difficult choices parents will ever have to make.
Which preschool is the right one for us? Will my child be safe there? How do I know I can trust this center to look after my child?
Because without trust, parent-teacher relationships crumble.
For ECE pros looking to reassure parents, boost enrollment, and continue to make the early learning experience as safe and enjoyable as possible, the pressure is on.
And with nearly 75% of millennials agreeing the pandemic has made them even more community conscious (and those same millennials making up a major part of your parent base), it’s clear that the new generation of parents wants to feel included in your preschool’s community.
To find out how to boost trust (and enrollment), we checked in with some top ECE experts. Here are their best tips for making families feel like... well, part of the family.
When we asked international ECE expert and social media front-runner Richard Cohen how to make parents feel like part of the family, he knew he had to make one thing clear: there’s no one explanation of how parent trust has been affected by the pandemic.
“The pandemic impacted every family differently. Trust in us and in EC group care settings is as diverse as the families we serve, before, during and as we hopefully move forward from these traumatic times,” he said, “The programs that already valued their role in creating caring, connected communities before COVID-19 fared better, in terms of parent trust, I’d imagine. If those bonds were already forged, I’d hope they all came together to find solutions and care for each other. If not, now is the perfect time to create a ‘new normal’ of respect, care and interdependence. Our work is more than just a business, it’s community leadership.”
His understanding of the nuances of parent trust led him to put the question out to his Facebook page of over 100K+ Early Childhood Care & Education professional followers.
Here’s what a few of them said:
“We’ve pretty much been online since March last year. One huge thing I have noticed is the lack of relationship building that happens with parents and teachers. We are used to talking with parents at drop off and pick up, and even when we were on campus for a bit, the parents couldn’t get out of their cars. Relationships equal trust.”
“Our parents have been 100% committed to making this work. Teachers have worked hard to make connections and build relationships. We communicate in person, via Zoom and through our portfolio app.”
“I see the mistrust coming from parents whose children have never been in group care settings, and the fear is mostly physical, that COVID and other illnesses are more likely to spread in group care settings, so they are waiting to enroll their children… It’s not anything against group care settings, it's simply a safety concern. From my families whose children were already in group care when COVID hit, I haven't heard any issues with trust lost.”
Whether your families are still hesitant about the potential risks of the pandemic, or all-in on getting life back to a new “normal”, be sure to keep an open, compassionate line of communication to help them feel comfortable and confident as part of your community.
Dr. Alice Sterling Honig is known for making waves in the early childhood field.
As the author of over 12 books and 600 articles and chapters, her research has influenced ECE work across the globe.
And for the Professor Emerita of Child Development at Syracuse University, making parents feel like part of the family is key to giving children a rounded support network.
“First, ECE pros need to help parents understand how much they admire and appreciate them for the difficult and challenging job they do. Parents are the most precious people to their children!” she says.
Here’s what Alice suggests teachers do to help make parents feel part of the ECE family:
“Also, when I test children with parents present, I always praise each of the child’s tiny accomplishments,” says Alice, “Even when I know that child isn’t accomplishing at normative age levels. The parents become attuned to my compliments and take increased pride in the child.”
“ECE pros need to help parents understand how much they admire and appreciate them for the difficult and challenging job they do.” — Dr. Alice Sterling Honig, Professor Emerita of Child Development, Department of Human Development and Family Science, Syracuse University
For her, the key to great child care is to partner with parents from day one.
“ECE professionals need to partner with families. We each bring different expertise to their child's early childhood experience: Professionals know about children, child development, and requirements where they work for early education. Whereas families know about the children's life experiences, culture, and genetics. We need to work hand-in-hand,” she explains.
So, what does that look like in practice? Here’s what Cindy has to say about it:
And that’s not all. Cindy also believes ECE leaders should empower families by giving them a collective voice.
“Early childhood settings should have a family-run organization that supports the activities of the ECE setting. We need to empower families by giving them a collective voice and the ability to determine how they would like to be involved. They can plan events, volunteer in classrooms, raise funds and organize other ways to be an integral part of the ECE community,” she explains.
And for her, technology is key to building on existing relationships.
“One benefit of the pandemic is that teachers and administrators connected with families using technology. We need to continue updating families about their children's learning every day. We also need to advocate for ending the digital divide. All families need the same access to early childhood settings and the people who teach their children,” she says.
Cindy shared a truly awesome real-life story to show how parent involvement can positively affect child behavior.
“I work with early childhood centers who invite families in if their occupation or career relates to topics in their curriculum. I was in one preschool when they were studying buildings and a parent who is an architect visited. He showed them blueprints and taught them that you draw a building before building it. From that point on, the children drew their plans before building in the block area,” says Cindy.
“We need to empower families by giving them a collective voice and the ability to determine how they would like to be involved.” — Cindy Terebush, Early Childhood Education Consultant
As the developer of the world-renowned Conscious Discipline program, Dr. Becky Bailey has sold over 2 million award-winning books and has over 20 million children in 47 countries benefiting from her work.
In other words, Becky is one of those ECE leaders you’ll want to know.
And her top tip to boost parent involvement is simple: “There are two simple things we already do every day that provide us with tremendous opportunities to build connection and community with families: Drop-off and pick-up!”
For Becky, weaving meaningful moments into drop-off and pick-up times is key to creating strong relationships with parents.
“Enhance your existing routines with meaningful (and quick) rituals containing eye contact, touch, presence and a playful situation. These factors are shown to increase the neural connections in the brain that help with cooperation, self-regulation, attention span and more. They also help preserve healthy bonds between parents and children while strengthening the bonds between families and ECE centers,” she says.
Here’s how it works:
“These simple moments have a profound impact on connection, community and a shared sense of joy.” — Dr. Becky Bailey, author, teacher and ECE expert.
If you haven’t already checked out the Kids Activities Blog, it’s time you did.
And for Holly, it’s technology like this that has helped parents become more involved than ever.
“The really good news is parents are more aware and involved in their child's education than any other time! This is the perfect time to harness the energy of partnership for the child,” she says.
So, how do you do it?
“One way is to increase communication so that parents know what is going on and how they can help,” says Holly.
Whatever your and your community’s pandemic experience has been, building trust and increasing parent involvement is still important when it comes to creating a strong community and helping it thrive.
From giving parents a voice to enhancing existing routines, there are many ways to help reassure parents and build stronger community relationships.
“A sense of community is central to inclusive, connected ECE programs,” says Becky. The key is to prioritize parent relationships and show them you care.